“In Pirates, there are gems from the first to the last minute. You don’t think ‘Oh, I’ll have to sit through this bit.’” Mike Leigh’s opinion of this comic operetta is no doubt endorsed by lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan all over the world. Certainly the cast of this production, supported by Mermaids: The University of St Andrews Performing Arts Fund, are in no doubt whatsoever and neither am I. They embrace this joyous show with all the talent they have and entertain from the first pouring of the pirate sherry to the last tarantara.
The Pirates of Penzance is light, funny, ridiculous, packed with marvelous music and quite simply great fun.
From the outset everyone onstage is clearly having a good time so it’s easy to relax and go with the flow. Director Peter Swallow has done a fine job in staging this bare-bones production and musical directors Sam Boobier and Mairi Grewer ensure that the show maintains a cracking pace. Gwen Davies tells a touchingly tuneful tale about Fred’ric as a little lad and Peter Cushley as the boy himself displays suitably youthful innocence, if not naivety, combined with a voice of almost disproportionate strength that also finely renders the softer romantic songs. Mabel is out to get what she wants and Caroline Taylor’s commanding performance with her soaring soprano voice and elements of coloratura ensures her success.
Any image we might have of a threatening Pirate King and his crew is dashed in G&S’s creation. These are sympathetic guys who feel sorry for their victims and are inclined to let them off. Ruaridh Maxwell’s tongue-in-cheek machismo is magnificent and his deep voice lends an air of gravitas to his words. The girls harmonise delightfully climbing over rocky mountain as do the pirates/policemen in their comparable choruses. And so we come to the bit we’ve all been waiting for. With a mischievous glint in his eye and a smile that says, “I know that you know that I know what’s coming,” Peter Sutton makes his entrance, commands the stage and launches into his tantalising tongue-twister with abundant confidence, proving that he is indeed the very model of a modern Major-General. He assured me that the faster you take it the easier it is, but it remains one of the most linguistically demanding songs in the repertoire.
The works of G&S have been around a long time and in the wealth of theatre that surrounds us it’s easy to forget just how much enjoyment can be derived from them. The Pirates of Penzance is light, funny, ridiculous, packed with marvelous music and quite simply great fun. This production will delight fans of G&S and for those not familiar their music it’s a great introduction. It’s not West End and a band would have given it more substance, but it it is still irresistible.